A Jewish Teen's Israel Experience
“Going to Israel was the best experience of my life!” – Lauren Manning, Park Vista High School
There are few opportunities that are as transformative for Jewish teenagers as a trip to Israel. From the time they first start their Jewish education, either in Jewish pre-school or religious school, adolescents are told that they are connected to Israel by a spiritual chain going back nearly 6,000 years. However, many of them do not fully connect with or understand their personal link in the chain until they have the opportunity to visit Israel and physically touch the land. Luckily, the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County offers teens two opportunities to experience Israel first hand.
Gesher Hai (Hebrew for “Living Bridge”) is a four-week teen trip to Israel through which teens from Palm Beach and Martin counties get to explore all the great things that Israel has to offer. From time spent hiking Masada and floating in the Dead Sea to shopping the busy streets of Tel Aviv and walking the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, there is never a dull moment! During this trip, participants also get the opportunity to enjoy a week in the Federation’s partnership region of Tzahar (Tzfat, Rosh Pina and Hatzor) and stay with Israeli families. Th Gesher Hai trip is unforgettable and unanimously teens leave with a renewed sense of Jewish identity and a strong passion for Israeli advocacy that will last them through high school and college. “I was able to see the real Israel, not Israel through the eyes of a tourist,” said Matthew Weisberg, a student at Suncoast High School.
Every year since the program’s inception, teens have returned from Gesher Hai feeling a stronger connection to Israel and an increased desire to give back to their spiritual homeland. In 2006, as a result of the Second Lebanon War, a group of Gesher Hai alumni proposed a secondary Israel experience, one based on community service and teen leadership. As a result, the second Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County opportunity – dubbed the “Bonim Fellowship” program – was born. (Bonim is Hebrew for “Builders.”) This elite and highly subsidized teen leadership and social action program is designed for those teens who have previously traveled to Israel. The Bonim Fellowship trip culminates with a 10-day community service experience in the Tzahar Region, which includes such opportunities as repairing bomb shelters, building parks and working at an Ethiopian absorption center. “My favorite part would have to be the long lasting connections I made to the people and Israel… After days of cleaning, scraping paint, painting stucco, painting roofs, and laughing and joking, our group of eight Americans and eight Israelis became a small connected family,” said Rebecca Levine, a student at Suncoast High School.